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S7S Mailbag Part 1: Changes with the Senators

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The S7S mailbag is back, and there is a lot to dissect. In part one of two, the staff looks at questions about changes to the Ottawa Senators

NHL: JAN 09 Blackhawks at Senators Photo by Richard A. Whittaker/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Thanks for sending in all of your questions to the mailbag over the weekend, as the staff here always loves providing answers to our readers. As always, there were a lot of quality questions, and with that comes some detailed responses. Today is part one of two of the mailbag, and these questions are about potential changes to the team:

I think one of the MANY problems with the organization is simply the front office is literally two decision makers Randy Lee and Dorion who obviously have this obsession with players who are a) big b) from the area or c) high character vets (cough Alex Burrows) as well as from what we believe and know a very small group of pro scouts and amateur scouts.

So my question is do you think if the Senators were to expand their front office with people who aren’t total pawns, and not attached to players like Ceci for example who clearly isn’t near as good as what this management thinks and actually has different and outside the box opinions like filling the bottom 6 with more skilled players or targeting young mobile d-men instead of giving up cap and assets for bums like Burrows, Thompson, Oduya etc. would we see better decisions due to the more diverse group of people if that were to happen?—Anonymous

You’re preaching to the choir, whoever you are. Eugene Melnyk even admitted that the Senators have the smallest front office in the league, and that’s not exactly something to brag about. Compared to having a good team, it’s not expensive at all to hire four or five more people to make sure that Ottawa is making better decisions with their player personnel.

They desperately need to be embracing more analytics-based analysis, and a fresh voice is an absolute must. I was a tad disappointed when Pierre Dorion got the GM job instead of someone outside of the organization, but at this point I’d even be happy if they fired Randy Lee and hired a new assistant GM. It shouldn’t be hard to assemble a quality staff in this day and age—TS

Dreger reports “Petr Mrazek is also widely known to be available. Based on his age, the 25-year-old goaltender might attract interest from clubs wanting depth at the position.” Why not take a flyer on Mrazek? Alternatively, are there good UFA goalies coming up in 18-19?—leif.helmer

Mrazek is an interesting choice. As a former Ottawa 67, we have more familiarity with him than most fanbases. He played much better than Jimmy Howard in 2014-15, but in only 29 starts. He was given the chance to be the starter the next year (54 starts), and put up a .921. But now the wheels have fallen off. After a .901 last year, he’s been demoted back to backup, and at .894 this year. Little surprise he’s available. I think he’d be worth a flyer.

He’ll be an RFA at the end of the year, he’s only 25, and he’ll likely be looking for less than this year’s $4M. The only way it works for the Sens though is to trade Condon for him, getting a salary and another underperforming goalie off the books. Ottawa could sign him for 1-2 years at ~$2.5-3M, and see which end of the spectrum was the outlier. That allows Marcus Hogberg time to develop before becoming a full-time NHLer.

The UFA goalie market doesn’t look exciting at all in 2018-19. It’s old guys (Halak, Zatkoff, Lehtonen, Ward, Niemi), guys who’ve never really panned out (Bernier, Raanta, Berra), and Belleville Senators (Hammond, Taylor, Driedger). Even if you convince, say, Carter Hutton to sign in Ottawa, what do you do with Ottawa’s $7.15M tandem? Without a goalie trade, there’s no way Ottawa’s looking for UFA or even offer sheet RFA help. Our best bet is the Sens trading Condon for an upcoming RFA like Mrazek, Lehner, or Grubauer—RA

As much as I understand we need some changes (even if maybe we are finally getting our footing), do you think trading established players is going to send the wrong message to our captain and saviour about the direction of the team?—David Rajsic

I definitely get this concern. Part of the message we were sold last season was that Ottawa was going “all-in” because they’re aware of the Erik Karlsson window and want to show him that they can be a winner. Karlsson has stated that he doesn’t care about individual awards, and has surely learnt from Daniel Alfredsson’s experience in terms of chasing a cup.

That being said, I don’t think Karlsson is stupid, and I think he’s very aware that the current plan isn’t working. What Ottawa needs, like any other NHL team, is good hockey players; the quicker that the management/ownership group understands that good is often synonymous with “young and skilled,” the better the team will be.

That’s not to say that there’s no need for established players -- veterans who have “been there before” and have “good character” -- it’s just that those qualities shouldn’t make you forget about the need for “skill” first. Find some more Clarke MacArthur’s, Derick Brassard’s, etc. instead of Alex Burrows’ and Nate Thompsons’, even if you have to pay a little bit more to get them—AM

Most of you have already expressed the opinion that this season should be written off (which I agree with). Do you believe the Sens need to go through a full-blown rebuild, or more of an on-the-fly retool? Also, how much confidence do you have in the current management team to be able to effectively conduct that plan to fruition? (Extra points for answering without making excuses for Dorion by using the word “Melnyk”)—Eldur00 (kaz1722 with similar question)

Playoffs aren’t happening. They’re not. It’s just not possible. The Senators don’t need a rebuild, however, they need a re-tooling. The core of Karlsson, Stone, Hoffman, Duchene, Brassard with Chabot on the rise is solid. The Senators have been defeated by two things this season: horrible goaltending and weak, over-deployed depth.

There’s a very realistic scenario where Dorion could move any (maybe all) of Oduya, Smith, Thompson and Burrows at the deadline for mid-round picks and/or AHL depth. While most of the fanbase doesn’t enjoy Oduya or Burrows respective contributions to the team, they’re both very typical trade deadline bait. So much so that both of them were traded on the trade deadline 11.5 months ago.

Smith is seen as a hard-nosed, third liner who can provide energy and depth scoring on a contender. Thompson is a noted “penalty killer and good faceoff man” so I can see him creating even a slight bidding war with teams looking to improve their centre depth for a playoff run.

The issue with re-tooling is in the crease. I’m not convinced Anderson has a bounce-back season in him next year and I’m equally not convinced Condon is or can be an NHL starter. Marcus Hogberg, while I’d love for the timeline to be quicker, won’t be ready to play in the NHL for a few seasons. That’s the big question mark in the re-tooling vs. re-building debate.

The second part is where things get messy. This re-tooling only works if the players mentioned above are replaced by better players. Assessing depth talent has been something both Dorion and Boucher have struggled with. There’s a scenario where you replace Smith, Burrows and Thompson with Chlapik, White and maybe a free agent signing in the offseason. Oduya is easily replaceable with one of Wideman or Borowiecki who’ve both missed extensive time with injuries this season. The issue here is Boucher’s reluctance to trust a single young player in his lineup (Chabot) let alone 3.

All this is to say: the Sens should re-tool but I don’t have confidence in it happening properly—SB

What do you make of Travis Yost’s article about Ottawa having the NHL’s worst depth scoring? All of the bottom six are well below league replacement level depth scoring/60. Who do you keep, who do you try to trade for value, and who do you simply try to package in a salary dump trade to get rid of their remaining contract?—AndrewSens (@ACEngbretson)

What is the first and easiest trade to make to improve this team?—Geemo3

I’m answering these two questions together because I think they’re related. First, I think Yost is correct. The metric he created is factually based on a player’s on-ice results, and the evidence speaks for itself: Ottawa’s depth certainly hasn’t performed well in both absolute and relative terms.

Although I believe that the team’s Achilles heel -- and the factor that is most responsible for their current position in the standings -- is poor goaltending from Craig Anderson and Mike Condon, depth should be where teams, especially those with limited $, can find an edge. There’s rarely a need to give depth players term or salary given how many quality NHLers exist out there; GMs and talent evaluators should be scouring the market for players who are undervalued (i.e. not given an opportunity).

The issue that Dorion and co. now face is that despite being easy to shrug off as individual errors, these small mistakes have added up to ~$10M in salary and ~5-6 roster spots. Given Ottawa’s ownership situation and inability to bury players in the minors like a Toronto or a Chicago -- don’t forget, Ottawa would rather include assets to trade away salary than keep them in the minors -- this situation is complicated.

I don’t think it’s worth trading away young players/picks to dump a Burrows/Thompson/Pyatt since they only have one year left; the only players who I would consider doing a salary dump trade on remains the longer term deals of Phaneuf, Ryan, or Anderson/Condon.

The easiest contract to swallow is Gabriel Dumont, because he’s on a two-way deal next year ($200K minors salary) so I’d “keep” him in the organization but send him down to Belleville. After him, Tom Pyatt is the next youngest and most versatile, so I’d keep him too.

That leaves Burrows, Thompson, and Oduya as depth players who I’d try to trade, but as I said earlier, I’m doubtful that the team would be able to get anything for them. Oduya is by far the easiest to move, given that teams are always looking for defencemen, the fact that he’s on a cheap one-year deal, and “veteraness”.

To answer Geemo3’s question on the first/easiest trade I’d make, the answer is simple: Cody Ceci. He surely has value as a young-ish, first-round pick, right-shot defenceman, and removing his 22+ minutes negative on-ice results from the team will help long-term. Although Ottawa doesn’t have a replacement -- Jaros is the only one in the system -- trading Ceci would signify an awareness that the second-pair has been a disaster for Ottawa ever since Erik Karlsson became a bonafide #1, and would lead to them searching out and hopefully acquiring a good defenceman (like Chris Tanev!) in his place—AM

[Next 3 paragraphs are separate questions but grouped together]: What trades do you think could happen for players, like Hoff, Ceci or Pageau? Specific teams and players. I love seeing trade ideas. Anyways keep up the good work guys!—Roedog1000 (Similar question from LaughingHyena666)

On the subject of potential trades, Fearless!? came up with a Hoffman deal that I think would be a good deal for us. He suggested Hoffman + Ceci to STL for Parayko + Sobotka. What do the staff/writers think of that trade? Does it help us? Would STL accept?—freshprinceof4thline

Kind of a 2 part question but Bob Mackenzie seems to believe that Hoffman is more than likely to be traded. Do the Silver Seven staff see Hoff as a core player or do you think he should be traded? If he is traded, what do you realistically expect to get back for him?—King Karlos

I’ve been trying to suppress my Armchair-GMing as of late, although sometimes it’s just too fun to resist. I’ll be throwing around a lot of names in the next few paragraphs, so just keep in mind that this is all just speculation and guesswork.

The mentioned trio of Hoffman, Ceci and Pageau all have trade rumours swirling around them, and the purpose of this needs to be kept in mind. Ottawa’s not a rebuilding team under Melnyk’s watch, and as per the owner’s comments, it sounds like any trade would be made to cut costs while trying to stay competitive. This was the premise of the Phaneuf and Zibanejad trades, so a deal involving a roster player would have to see another roster player of lower salary coming back.

We also have to think of this from the perspective of the team we’d be trading with. The buyers for the players we’re selling are contenders, which means they’ll only be in for a trade if they’re getting an upgrade. So expect Ottawa to get the lesser roster player in the deal, as long as salary is being shed.

Let’s start with Pageau. His $3.1M cap hit has a rising salary going up to $3.3M and $3.4M, so let’s use $2.3M as our ceiling for a returning player assuming the $1M in savings is enough for Dorion to pull the trigger. The list doesn’t wield many players from contending teams, although Brett Connolly (WSH), Sam Bennett (CGY) and Oscar Lindberg (VGK) could be some reasonable options.

Next is Cody Ceci, who might be the hardest just because it would leave Ottawa with Erik Karlsson as their only remaining right shot defenceman. His trade value has declined league-wide as well, so don’t expect a return of Taylor Hall or Jordan Eberle any more. Assuming his extension will be in the realm of $3.5M, we’ll use the cutoff of a $2.5M salary.

The options are even more limited than Pageau, with Nikita Zadorov (COL) and Ian Cole (PIT) seeming like the only semi-viable options. Even then, they both shoot left, although Cole’s already had his name floated around for a potential trade earlier this season.

The most intriguing player of the listed group is Mike Hoffman, as the options are a lot more open. I’m not at all advocating for a Hoffman trade, although for the purpose of this exercise we’ll use the cutoff at $4M.

Here are some names for potential starting pieces: Vladimir Sobotka (STL), Tanner Pearson (LAK), Erik Haula (VGK), Josh Anderson (CBJ) and Calle Jarnkrok (NSH). All have at least two more years left after this season on cost-controlled contracts, although the rest of the package around them would be variant. All of those teams are in a position to be calling on a player of Hoffman’s calibre.

Then there’s the possibility of a package deal, such as the one suggested by Fearless!?. Speaking specifically to that trade, I don’t think Dorion ends up pulling the trigger just because more salary will be coming in than going out. As for the Blues, I don’t think they end up saying yes either since their defence corps is already thinner than their group of forwards. It’s a good idea with equal value, and I love Parayko as a player, but it defeats the purpose of cutting costs.

Looking at the overall logic of a Hoffman deal, it doesn’t really make sense why the Sens would want to trade him on his own if the goal is to cut costs. After all, he’s on one the team’s more friendly contracts, and has been one of the Sens’ top scorers for a few seasons now. Yet we’re seeing reports from guys such as Bob McKenzie saying that a trade is more likely than not to happen.

But there’s another option for a trade that I think is more likely than any of the scenarios above: a package deal involving Hoffman and Phaneuf.

Just recently in Elliotte Friedman’s 31 Thoughts column, he reported that the Sens are once again actively shopping Phaneuf, and have likely talked to every team on his potential trade list. Of course no one will take Dion’s contract as is, especially if the Sens don’t want even more salary coming back. This brings in Hoffman as the bait to make another team bite.

A roster player would need to come back in return (I’m guessing a forward), plus maybe a draft pick or two on either side to balance things as the GMs see fit. But based on all the rumours we’re seeing, I wouldn’t be surprised if this is the scenario Dorion’s working hardest on accomplishing—CC

If you were Pierre Dorion for a day & could make one trade, who would it be & what would be the return?—mikeec67

This is an easy answer for me. Just like Ary said earlier, it’d have to be a trade involving Cody Ceci, as he still has league-wide trade value. I’d call every GM in the league and see what they’d give up for him. I still think Ottawa would be able to get a 40-50 point winger in his prime straight up for him—TS